Tuesday, July 31, 2012

At the Movies – August 2012 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

360 (Fernando Meirelles) – Romance Drama – Aug 3 [limited]
Summary: A dramatic interweaving of intersecting relationships between people from disparate social backgrounds. Filmmakers: Director Fernando Meirelles was once one of the most promising auteur filmmakers, starting his international career with two wonderful films (City of God and The Constant Gardener), but his recent films have not lived up to expectations (Blindness and this). He is working with very good cinematographer Adriano Goldman (Jane Eyre) and production designer John Paul Kelly (The Guard). Cast: The film has a good cast featuring Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Jamel Debbouze, Ben Foster, and Anthony Hopkins among others. Expectations: With Fernando Meirelles directing, there is certainly a chance for 360 to be a very good drama, or at the very least have an interesting visual style. That said, the film was not well received on the festival circuit, playing mostly to negative and moderate reviews. From what I have seen, I think that this may be worth a rental for fans of interweaving character dramas. Trailer: Here.

Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) – Drama – Aug 17 [NYC/LA]
Summary: Eric Packer is a 28-year-old billionaire asset manager. One day he takes a limo trip across New York City that devolves into an odyssey as the world begins to fall apart. Filmmakers: Writer-director David Cronenberg is known for his eccentric and highly stylized work (most fans cite The Fly, A History of Violence and Easter Promises as his best work, but personally I really liked A Dangerous Method). He is working with frequent collaborators composer Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings) and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (The Empire Strikes Back), while production designer Arvinder Grewal (Resident Evil: Afterlife) is new to the team. Cast: The film stars Robert Pattinson, and features Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, Kevin Durand, K’Naan, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, and Paul Giamatti in support. Expectations: Cosmopolis looks like a very ambitious film from Cronenberg, which means that it will either be incredible or fail utterly. There does not look like there is much middle ground based on what I have seen. Personally, I think it looks brilliant. But, critics have not been kind to it during its festival screenings. While I am not a fan of Pattinson and do not see him as a great leading man, the supporting cast features a few fantastic actors (Binoche, Gadon, Amalric, Baruchel, and Giamatti). I am looking forward to seeing this, but again I think it will be a very polarizing film. Trailer: Here.

Compliance (Craig Zobel) – Thriller – Aug 17 [limited]
Summary: Based on true events – a prank caller poising as the police convinces a fast food manager interrogate an innocent young employee. Filmmakers: Writer-director Craig Zobell is back with his second feature film (his first was Great World of Sound – yup, I have never heard of it either). He is working with first-time composer Heather McIntosh, cinematographer Adam Stone (Take Shelter) and production designer Matthew Munn (art director on Adventureland). Cast: The cast features Ann Dowd, Dreama Walker and Pat Healy. Expectations: Compliance has played to mostly positive reviews on the festival circuit (though has also been a little critically mixed too). However, some viewers have found it so disturbing that they have walked out, as the film is creepy. There is a lot of psychological violence. It is worth checking out for those who like inventive low budget thrillers. Trailer: Here.

Robot and Frank (Jake Schreier) – Sci-Fi Drama – Aug 24 [limited]
Summary: Frank is an ex-jewel thief who is resolved to live out the rest of his life in miserable isolation. However, to keep him company, his son buys him a robot butler. Soon, the two become companions and try their luck as a heist team. Filmmakers: Director Jake Schreier makes his directorial debut with the film. He is working with composer Francis Farewell Starlite (also a newcomer, he is the front man for Francis and the Lights), cinematographer Matthew Lloyd and production designer Sharon Lomofsky (A Love Song for Bobby Long). Cast: Frank Langella stars with James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon, and Peter Sarsgaard’s voice (as the robot) in support. Expectations: Robot and Frank looks nicely different and refreshing (in a world in which most films are just the same thing over and over again). It is playing to positive reviews during its festival run winning a film prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and could even be a surprise Oscar contender (most likely for Langella). I am looking forward to seeing the film. Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Celeste and Jesse Forever (Lee Toland Krieger) – Dramedy – Aug 3 [limited]
Summary: Celeste and Jesse are best friends who also happen to be married – a happily ever after story right? Nope. Something just did not work and they get divorced. Now, they try to remain friends as they seek out new relationships. Filmmakers: Director Lee Toland Krieger returns for his third feature (but this is his first to see a theatrical release). He is working with a crew of newcomers including composers Zach Cowie and Sunny Levine, cinematographer David Lanzenberg and production designer Ian Phillips (though he works on Parks and Recreation). Cast: The cast is made up of a great comedic mix. Rashida Jones (who also co-wrote the film) and Andy Samberg star, while Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Chris Messina, and Rich Sommer feature in support. Expectations: Celeste and Jesse Forever had positive buzz coming out of Sundance, but has not received the best critical reviews from other advanced screenings. Based on what I have seen however, it looks like a great indie dramedy mixing very funny comedy with drama that resonates. I also really like the cast. I am excited to see it. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

The Babymakers (Jay Chandrasekhar) – Comedy – Aug 3 [limited]
Summary: Tommy is not able to get his wife Audrey pregnant, and so they must use donor sperm. But wait! He remembers that years ago he made a deposit to a sperm bank. Recruiting his pals, Tommy comes up with a plan to steal back his sperm. Filmmakers: Director Jay Chandrasekhar has a great background in comedy, directing most of the Broken Lizard films and working on a number of good comedy TV series (like Arrested Development, Happy Endings and Community). He is working with cinematographer Frank DeMarco (Beerfest) and production designer Katie Byron (Like Crazy). Cast: Paul Schneider and Olivia Munn star with Aisha Tyler, Kevin Heffernan, Chandrasekhar, Collette Wolfe, M.C. Gainey, Nat Faxon, and Jenica Bergere in support. Expectations: As a fan of most of Broken Lizard’s stuff, I am looking forward to The Babymakers (though it is not really a Broken Lizard film, it is directed by Chandrasekhar, has many of the same actors showing up in it and has the same wacky tone). Everyday Joes turning to crime is usually a comedy concept that produces funny stuff, and hopefully this is no different. Trailer: Here.

For a Good Time, Call… (Jamie Travis) – Comedy – Aug 31 [limited]
Summary: In college Lauren and Katie were enemies, but when a nice Gramercy Park apartment opens up in NYC they must form an unlikely partnership to afford the rent – they start a phone sex line together. Filmmakers: Director Jamie Travis makes his directorial debut. He is working with composer John Swihart (How I Met Your Mother), cinematographer James Laxton (Adult World) and newcomer production designer Sue Tebbutt. Cast: It stars Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller (who co-wrote the script), and features Seth Rogen, Mimi Rogers, Justin Long, Nia Vardalos, and Mark Webber in support. Expectations: For a Good Time, Call… is another comedy to have a lot of buzz at Sundance, but has not played to great reviews since. It looks funny, but not really anything more than a rental. Lauren Miller is potentially a new comedic writing and acting talent and this is her first project of note which could dictate whether or not she makes it (though she does have Seth Rogen’s backing, and he has been very successful producing, writing and acting). Trailer: Here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Movie of the Week – The New World

This week’s movie is The New World (2005).

The drama is about the first English settlers, including John Smith, arriving in Virginia in the 17th century, and their clash with the natives. It is also a love story between Smith and Pocahontas, and later Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Directed and written by Terrence Malick, the film is more an emotional experience than a true narrative piece (like all his films). I would also contend that it is not only his most underrated work, but also one of his best films. From the stark reality that the natives face with the arrival of the English and all that means to the future of their civilization (poignantly shown in a scene in which Opechancanough stares at a stain-glass window, realizing that his and his people’s whole way of life is over) to the beautiful photography (the juxtaposition between Virginia and London is quite striking). It is the first collaboration between Malick and director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, garnering some of greatest work of the decade. The pair worked together so well that Lubezki has shot and is shooting Malick’s next four films (The Tree of Life, and the upcoming To the Wonder, Lawless and Knight of Cups). James Horner provides a great score, and long-time Malick collaborator Jack Fisk provides excellent production design. Malick’s cast is also very good with Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher and Christian Bale starring, and support from Christopher Plummer, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, David Thewlis, and Yorick van Wageningen. Malick’s film is powerful, exploring the wonder, beauty and naivety of the New World, but also tragic and sad as the viewer sees both the birth of America and the death of the native civilization. The romantic story is also well done. Historically, John Smith’s story has been called into question, but the film is not so much about the facts, rather the experience. It is a must-see for fans of Malick and those looking for an engulfing emotional and visual experience. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming

Friday, July 27, 2012

NaS – Life is Good (2012) – Review

Review: Life is Good marks NaS’s tenth studio album (and sixth number one album). It has a classic hip hop feel to it, harkening back to the sound of the late 1990s and early 2000s. NaS is one of the great storytellers in hip hop, and this is very evident on this album. Musically and lyrically, this album has a very nostalgic feel to it, as NaS often speaks about the past looking back fondly. From Illmatic to Life is Good, it is clear that NaS still has the flow and the lyrics to be considered among hip hop’s elite MCs. However, NaS seems to still have trouble picking beats that both fit his style and push him forward. I like a lot of the production from No I.D. and Salaam Remi, but some of it seems like variations on stuff he has done before, while other tracks just do not work for NaS (thinking specifically of the Swizz Beatz produced song Summer on Smash and the collaboration between Salaam Remi, Darkchild and DJ Hot Day Reach Out). I also feel like there are too many ‘filler’ tracks that weaken the great stuff that is on this. Life is Good will please NaS fans, as it is a good album but it is far from a classic or the album that puts NaS back on top. 3/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      A Queens Story – Produced by Salaam Remi
2)      Accident Murderers – Produced by No I.D., featuring Rick Ross
3)      The Don – Produced by Salaam Remi, Heavy D and Da Internz

Available on CD and Digital Download

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (2012) – Review

Review: Frank Ocean first came into the public consciousness as both a member of Odd Future and as a songwriter for many of R&B and pop’s best acts. channel ORANGE, Ocean’s debut, builds off his wonderful mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA showcasing both his silky voice and excellent songwriting. While pop music seems to be sloppy with mostly frivolous and meaningless lyrics picked for their catchiness rather than being something real, Ocean offers his listeners a deeper poignant look into himself. His stories search his soul and have a very personal touch that is very welcoming. Musically, Ocean also has a great and different sound (I really love the 8-bit stuff). His album is not just another cookie-cut mix of the same tracks we have heard over and over in the last few years. If anything, channel ORANGE is original, deep and intimate. This is the album pop music and R&B has been waiting for and needs, establishing Ocean as not only one of the great new artists in the genre but also (along with The Weeknd and The-Dream) one of the best artists right now. This album is a must for fans of pop and R&B. 4/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Pyramids – Produced by Malay
2)      Thinkin Bout You – Produced by Shea Taylor
3)      Lost – Produced by Malay

Available on CD and Digital Download

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Essential Songs of 2012: Part 5 – Music Spotlight – July 2012

Artist: Beach House Song: Myth Producer(s):  Beach House and Chris Coady Featuring: N/A Album: Bloom

Artist: Bloc Party Song: Octopus Producer(s): Alex Newport Featuring: N/A Album: Four

Artist: Childish Gambino Song: Unnecessary Producer(s): Childish Gambino Featuring: ScHoolboy Q & Ab-Soul Album: Royalty

Artist: Dirty Projectors Song: Dance for You Producer(s): Dave Longstreth Featuring: N/A Album: Swing Lo Magellan

Artist: Ellie Goulding Song: Hanging On (Active Child cover) Producer(s): N/A Featuring: Tinie Tempah Album: N/A

Artist: Frank Ocean Song: Pyramids Producer(s): Malay Featuring: N/A Album: channel ORANGE

Artist: French Montana Song: Pop That Producer(s): Lee Beats Featuring: Rick Ross, Drake & Lil Wayne Album: Excuse My French

Artist: Passion Pit Song: I’ll Be Alright Producer(s): Michael Angelakos and Chris Zane Featuring: N/A Album: Gossamer

Artist: Porcelain Raft Song: Drifting In and Out Producer(s): Mauro Remiddi Featuring: N/A Album: Strange Weekend

Artist: Woods Song: Cali in a Cup Producer(s): N/A Featuring: N/A Album: Bend Beyond

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Review

Review: The Dark Knight Rises is an utterly and brilliantly satisfying conclusion to The Dark Knight Trilogy. The film finds Bruce Wayne and Gotham City eight years removed from the events of The Dark Knight – Wayne has retired from being Batman and has locked himself away in his mansion, while Commissioner Gordon has cleaned up the streets. However, something devious is brewing, as the mysterious terrorist Bane plots to bring about both the destruction of Gotham and the end of Batman. Writer-director Christopher Nolan has done an excellent job in crafting this trilogy; from Batman Begins showcasing how the anger filled Bruce Wayne channeled his fear and rage into a way to save Gotham to The Dark Knight addressing the sacrifices that Wayne must endure to keep the city safe. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan tells the personal story of Wayne finally overcoming his fear while also aggrandizing the franchise, as this is an immense production feeling more extravagant (like the epics of classic Hollywood – similar to Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia) than the past two films. There are a lot of characters, interweaving storylines, big set pieces, and locations. Plus, the film has just a grand visual style and tone to it (especially when viewed as intended in real IMAX). Right from the start, the audience feels like they are experiencing something different and special (again, similar to how audiences must have felt watching the epics of the past on the big screen). It is a very visceral experience, as the visuals, score and sound design work together. Under less capable hands, the sheer amount of material (being enormous) that Nolan needs to get through in under three hours while still having enough action would have found the film collapsing under itself. Nolan, however, skillfully composes the film to flow beautifully and efficiently. If nothing else, this can be remembered (as well as the first two films) as the work of a master storyteller. Nolan gives Bruce Wayne the typical three act hero’s arc, but also incorporates five other principle characters that each has their own story arc, both intersecting and separate to Wayne’s. Nolan’s structure for the overall film builds upon Wayne’s arc, divulging story and character information for each of the main players. The film never feels slow or disjointed, because everything is building towards the end. While the characters all have their own motivations and arcs, all their stories come together in the end. Nolan also does a fantastic job of giving all his characters dramatic moments allowing them to shine, and thus the audience understands them, and can relate and be invested in them (which is key to any film working on a deeper emotional level). Yes, this is a spectacle film – there are huge action set pieces and thrilling moments, but they are not the point. The characters are the point, and why this film (and Nolan’s other Batman films) work so well. The audience wants to see Batman (Wayne) triumph – they genuinely care. This is particularly the case with this film (and is part of the reason I think it might be the most engaging of the series – though this only based on one viewing), as Nolan gives much more of an emphasis to Bruce Wayne than Batman. Before, Batman was the main character and Wayne was just the mask that he wore (to some extent). But with The Dark Knight Rises, it is Wayne’s story and internal struggle that drives the dramatic and emotional elements of the film, building on elements from the series (like the loss of Rachel). More so than the first two films, the audience cares about Wayne more than Batman. Nolan’s choice of villain in Bane also directly ties into this internal struggle for Wayne. Bane is both mentally and physically menacing and (maybe even) superior to Batman, and thus it is Wayne and not Batman that must find the will to defeat him. In many ways, this film (and the series) works as a character drama (both for Wayne and the other main characters). Nolan gives them so much depth (especially when compared to most genre filmmaking) and they are so well drawn and developed. But again, The Dark Knight Rises is also a great action adventure, full of brilliantly executed set pieces. It also has the expected one-liners and banter between the heroes and villains. Nolan does infuse some humor and lighter moments that relieve the tension (if only briefly). Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has been to an extent based in reality (there have not been aliens or monsters), but it is still an exaggerated reality. This film sees the technology that Wayne has access to pushed a little further as well. But it works, because the overall tone is still grounded. Tonally, overall, the film has a very bleak and constricting feel to it. Unlike most superhero films, the audience is not actually sure if Batman will live through the end. Nolan does almost too good a job with the tension, which is tired to how relevant the film feels to today's world (maybe especially America) with the social and economic unrest. The film is completely gripping and engaging on both a dramatic level and on a visual one – and this again goes back to Nolan’s care and skill in presenting and fleshing out his characters and giving this film (in particular) an epic grandiose visual style and scale. The Dark Knight Rises is not only one of the greatest comic-book films ever made (if not the greatest), but also a masterwork of genre filmmaking (and filmmaking in general as well). It is the new bar to which all other spectacle films must now be judged.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Christopher Nolan, now eight films in, can altogether be called the best Hollywood filmmaker both right now and of his generation (and one of the five best auteurs across all of film right now). With Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has perfected a style of filmmaking that is both on the highest ends of spectacle and drama from a quality standpoint. His event filmmaking has transcended pure entertainment or extravagance by giving even more care to story and characters. More so than any other filmmaker right now, his name brings with it the promise of not only a fantastic film but also something to wonder at and be amazed by. And more so than any other filmmaker right now, I look very much forward to what he does next. Hans Zimmer gives the film one of his most thrilling and epic scores (and this from a man who has built his career on composing excellent music for action films). The score enhances the enormous scale and grand feel of the film, completely complementing it. It is not only one of Zimmer’s best (maybe even his best), but the best film score of the year so far (here is a piece I particularly like). Plus, his Batman theme is wonderful. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is also wonderfully brilliant. The film has a dark yet crisp look to it. Gotham is visually presented as being both gritty and elegant – like any of the great cities of the world. And, Pfister’s camera works with Nolan to present this as being a massive event film. Visually, it is magnificent, impressive and colossal in its scope and scale. It truly feels like an epic in the best sense. Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh’s production design accomplishes many of the same things – it is grand in its scale and showcases both the gritty reality and elegance of the city and its landmarks (or differing sets). But Crowley and Kavanaugh’s work also has an aesthetic artistic appeal to it (especially the pit prison). Technically and aesthetically, the work from Zimmer, Pfister, Crowley, Kavanaugh, Nolan, and everyone else involved in the making of the film is top notch and without equal so far this year. The film also features exceptional performances. There are a ton of cameos in the film (at least for those that watch a lot of TV, as many familiar faces pop up in small roles). Juno Temple and Ben Mendelsohn are great in small supporting roles. Morgan Freeman plays Fox with his typical coolness and seemingly moral absoluteness. Fox and Alfred seem to very much take up the mantel of Wayne’s surrogate father figure. Michael Caine as Alfred is given more weighty drama to play in this film versus the past two, and he is fantastic in it. His emotional scenes with Wayne very much drive Wayne’s internal struggle, and thus Caine’s ability to be great in them is key (and he is great in them). Gary Oldman is also given some dramatic heavy lifting (much like the end of The Dark Knight), and he is very good (as usual). Oldman plays Gordon to be very conflicted. He has done a lot of good for the city, but at what cost (especially if you harken back to the scene in Batman Begins when he refuses to take a piece of the payoff – wanting to keep his hands and conscious clean). Marion Cotillard plays her Wayne Enterprises board-member character Miranda to be almost the perfect match to Bruce Wayne. She is lovely, caring and intelligent. And yet, there is something more to her. To say the least, she is very good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is almost emotionless and hardened on the exterior, but there is a lot of pain behind his eyes. Much like the other characters in the narrative, his role as Blake and performance fits perfectly with Bruce Wayne’s own internal struggle. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as Selina Kyle. She is not there just to serve as eye candy or a mere love interest; rather she is a full and complicated character. Hathaway plays her to be very feminine in the way she moves, but also with an edge. She is not to be trifled with, as she can handle herself. Tom Hardy is wonderful as Bane. Many complain about his voice (and have since it first appeared in the prologue ahead of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), but I contend that it is an absolutely essential and genius aspect to his character. Hardy plays Bane with so much power, just in the way he carries himself and in the way he speaks. He is truly formidable. In the wake of Heath Ledger’s outstanding performances as the Joker in The Dark Knight, many wondered if any actor(s) could portray a villain (or main character other than Batman) to the same level in this film. Hathaway and Hardy are both equal to the task and bring forth different, but equally engaging and interesting characters. Christian Bale has been very good throughout the films. In The Dark Knight Rises, he gets a chance to really dramatically shine, and he is again astonishing. Bale’s Wayne is almost a tragic figure that is so vulnerable, but there is such a will to him as well. While with Batman, Bales play him to be a force of controlled rage. Being that this is a genre film, his work will mostly go unnoticed, but it is standout work nonetheless.

Summary & score: The Dark Knight Rises is the epitome of epic (event) filmmaking, being both of the highest quality in terms of entertainment spectacle and dramatic resonance. 10/10

Monday, July 23, 2012

Movie of the Week – On the Waterfront

This week’s movie is On the Waterfront (1954).

The crime drama is about Terry Malloy, a former prize-fighter who has a crisis of conscious when a friend of his is killed by the corrupt union boss that controls the waterfront. Terry rustles with whether or not he should stand up against the man he works for and the corruption of the system. It is directed by one of the great directors of the era Elia Kazan (who also directed Gentleman’s Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and A Face in the Crowd). Kazan worked with composer Leonard Bernstein, cinematographer Boris Kaufman and art director Richard Day on the film. On the Waterfront has a wonderful cast, all of which give fantastic performances. It stars Marlon Brando and features Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger in support. It won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Cinematography, Supporting Actress, and Leading Actor. On the Waterfront, along with being one of the greatest from of the 1950s, is probably best known for Brando’s performance, which many consider to be the best of his career. To some extent, the film could be considered part of the gangster genre, as it deals with a mafia-like figure controlling the waterfront. However, Brando’s Terry does not seem like a typical gangster genre protagonist, as there is no rise to power and fall. The film is much more a character piece looking at a man struggling with peer pressure and his own morals. He is an anti-hero who ends up being very heroic. It is a must-see for those who enjoy great character pieces and those looking to watch all the great American films in cinema history. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and Streaming

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Christian Bale – Movies Spotlight – July 2012

Christian Bale, 38, is one of the most prolific and talented actors working today. He is probably best known for his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. This month he stars in the last chapter of the trilogy: The Dark Knight Rises. The film also stars Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard (making up one of the best casts of the year). It tells the story of Batman’s return to Gotham to save the city from the grip of the terrorist Bane. The Dark Knight Rises has the potential to be the summer’s biggest and best film (make sure to see it in IMAX).

Early Career:

Bale got his start in 1986 taking a supporting role in the TV movie Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. A year later, his first breakthrough came when Steven Spielberg cast him as the lead in Empire of the Sun – the story of a young English boy who struggles to survive when the Japanese occupy China during WWII. Bale’s performance won him recognition from many critics. He next took a small supporting role in Kenneth Branagh’s excellent Shakespeare adaptation Henry V. Bale next started to take on more family oriented films starting with the 1990 TV movie Treasure Island – playing the lead Jim Hawkins. He followed that with the Disney live-action musical Newsies in 1992. Working again with Disney, Bale took a supporting voice-role in Pocahontas (funny enough, ten years later he would again star in a Pocahontas related narrative). In 1998, Bale decided to return to more provocative material taking one of the three principal roles in Todd Haynes’s glam rock drama Velvet Goldmine – which chronicles (using pseudonyms) the careers of David Bowie and Iggy Pop during the 1970s. Bale plays a reporter investigating the intertwining careers of Brian Slade and Curt Wild (Bowie and Iggy Pop respectively).

American Psycho – Breakthrough:

Bale’s big breakthrough came in 2000 with American Psycho, but it almost did not happen. Lionsgate wanted Leonardo DiCaprio, but writer-director Mary Harron wanted Bale. Lionsgate made an offer to DiCaprio and he accepted and Harron left the project. Oliver Stone signed on to directed, but the project fell apart when DiCaprio left to make The Beach and Stone’s budget got out of hand. Thus, Lionsgate rehired Harron and Bale was again cast as Patrick Bateman. However, Lionsgate wanted Harron to cast two known stars in supporting roles, and so she obliged with Willem Dafoe and Reese Witherspoon. Bateman is brilliantly played by Bale, capturing the sadness and madness wonderfully – he reportedly based his performance on Tom Cruise, seeing him on the Late Show with David Letterman and thinking that he looked dead behind the eyes. Bale had always been a fantastic character and method actor, but American Psycho made him a leading man in Hollywood and showcased his ability to become characters (something he would continually showcase over the next decade). Bale coming off the success of American Psycho made a number of mediocre Hollywood and independent films: Shaft, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Laurel Canyon, and Reign of Fire. His next critically acclaimed hit came with Kurt Wimmer’s highly stylized action sci-fi drama Equilibrium (a must-see for fans of The Matrix-like action films). Bale then completely altered his body to take the lead in Brad Anderson’s The Machinist about an industrial worker who has not slept in a year and doubts his own sanity. It is a profound performance. Bale also voiced Howl in the English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle in 2004.

Batman – Stardom:

In 2005, Bale became a bona fide star with the release of Batman Begins. Along with Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Batman Begins cemented that a new generation of auteur filmmakers had taken over and were making genre films that were not just box office successes but also among the best films of their respective years. Bale and director Nolan also brought a new much more serious and grounded approach to the character completely changing the expectations of what a Batman film could and should be. In short, they changed the game. With the success of Batman (both box office and especially critically), Bale had his pick of projects – and he made some great films starting with David Ayer’s cop drama Harsh Times. Next he starred in (his second Pocahontas narrative) The New World, written and directed by Terrence Malick. It is an absolutely beautiful and powerful film. Continuing his string of working with great directors and giving brilliant performances, Bale starred in Werner Herzog’s Vietnam prisoner of war drama Rescue Dawn. He again needed to alter is body to become his character. Working again with Nolan in 2006, Bale starred in The Prestige – a wonderful film about rival magicians. In 2007, Bale starred in the action western (remake) 3:10 to Yuma and Todd Haynes’s Bob Dylan biography I’m Not There. Then, in 2008, he returned to the Batman franchise and director Nolan for The Dark Knight – a genre film so good that the Oscars changed their rules (from five Best Picture nominees to ten) after the embarrassment of not nominating it (the best film of the year). Along with being probably the most critically acclaimed comic-book film, it also played to the third best US box office of all-time (now fourth, as The Avengers has surged to number two). Finishing up the decade, Bale starred as John Connor in Terminator Salvation and Melvin Purvis (the FBI agent who lead the team that killed John Dillinger) in Michael Mann’s fantastic (and highly underrated) Public Enemies.

The Fighter – Elite Actor:

Bale has shown his ability to completely and utterly inhabit his characters, usually staying in character throughout the duration of filming. He even did all his press for Batman Begins with the American accent that he had developed for the film (he is Welch). In 2010, Bale finally got his recognition winning an Oscar for his work in David O. Russell’s The Fighter. As with many of his performances, Bale the man is unrecognizable leaving only Dicky Eklund the character. Earlier this year, Bale starred in the Chinese film The Flowers of War, directed by (China’s Steven Spielberg) Yimou Zhang. Praised in China, the film was not as heralded in the States.

Upcoming Projects:

Following The Dark Knight Rises, Bale has three films with scheduled 2013 releases. Up first, he stars with Zoe Saldana, Willem Dafoe, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, and Sam Shepard in Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace – a revenge thriller about an ex-con who tries to blend into his new surroundings (in the form of a small Indiana town), but is haunted by a figure from his past. After that, Bale has two films with Terrence Malick. The first, still untitled, is about two intersecting love triangles ripe with obsession and betrayal set against the music scene in Austin, Texas. Boasting a great cast, it co-stars Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Haley Bennett, and maybe Wes Bentley. The second, which also stars Portman, Blanchett and Bentley in addition to Bale, called Knight of Cups is about a man in search of love and truth (like all Malick films). It also co-stars Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Isabel Lucas, Imogen Poots, and Justin Wheelon. This is just a guess, but I think these films are probably related and share the same characters. I am really looking forward to these two Malick films, and Bale’s work in them.

Career Highlights:

1)      Empire of the Sun (1987) – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
2)      Henry V (1989) – supporting (DVD)
3)      Velvet Goldmine (1998) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD)
4)      American Psycho (2000)* – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
5)      Equilibrium (2002) – lead (Blu-ray, DVD)
6)      The Machinist (2004) – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      Batman Begins (2005)* – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
8)      Harsh Times (2005) – lead (Blu-ray, DVD)
9)      The New World (2005)* – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
10)   Rescue Dawn (2006) – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
11)   The Prestige (2006)* – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
12)   3:10 to Yuma (2007) – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
13)   The Dark Knight (2008)* – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
14)   Public Enemies (2009) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
15)   The Fighter (2010) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TV Series of the Month – Party Down

This month’s TV series is Party Down (2009-2010).

The comedy is about a group of actors and writers in LA trying to make it in the industry, but in the meantime they work for a catering company. The show was created by John Enbom, Dan Etheridge, Paul Rudd, and Rob Thomas (Enbom and Etheridge wrote on Veronica Mars, which was created by Thomas, and Rudd guest starred in an episode). The series has a fantastic comedic cast with Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen, Martin Starr, Lizzy Caplan, Jane Lynch (season one), and Megan Mullally (season two). It also boasts a great guest appearance list highlighted by Kristen Bell, Ken Jeong, J.K. Simmons, and Steve Guttenberg. Airing on Starz during its run, Party Down is one of the funniest cable shows of the last decade (and probably one of the most unheralded). What works so well is that the comedy is these actors trying to make it having to deal with the almost dehumanizing mundane existence of menial unskilled labor and being treated essentially as lepers. I highly recommend checking it out for fans of Veronica Mars (at least the humor in VM) and series like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and Extras. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and Streaming